Tag Archives: language

556. With Jessica Beck from Honestly English

Talking to English teacher Jessica Beck about her new website, “Honestly English” and some typical topics she talks about and teaches, including the #MeToo movement and our favourite female superheroes and comedians. Videos and links below.

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Introduction Transcript

Today on the podcast I have another interview for you to listen to as part of your learning English routine. This time I am talking to Jessica Beck, who you might know from the IELTS Energy Podcast.

I have spoken to Jessica before on this podcast, back in episode 297 when we talked about using humour in the speaking part of the IELTS test.

297. Using Humour in the IELTS Speaking Test (With Jessica from All Ears English)

IELTS Energy is an appropriate title for that podcast because Jessica has loads of energy as you will hear. When we recorded this conversation it was 7AM for her (because of the time difference) which is pretty early for podcasting but she was already wide awake and ready to go. Maybe it’s that American can-do attitude, or the coffee she’s been drinking, I don’t know, but her energy is infectious. It’s one of the hallmarks of the IELTS Energy Podcast in fact, and the All Ears English podcast, which she is also associated with.

Just in case you don’t know, Jessica Beck is an English teacher who lives in Portland, which is in Oregon, which is in the north-west of the USA, which is in North America, which is in America, which is on earth. So you’re going to be listening to a combination of Jessica’s American English and my British English in this conversation.

So, Jessica does IELTS Energy, but she’s on my podcast today because she has just launched a new website and YouTube channel called Honestly English, and I thought we could talk a bit about that and some of the topics she’s been teaching recently in her videos. honestlyenglish.com/

So “Honestly English” – this is her own channel, her own project and therefore is a space where she can teach English in her own way and cover topics that mean a lot to her personally and since Jessica is a huge pop culture nerd her videos and blog posts all contain loads of references to movies and comic books and things like that. She is also very passionate about feminism and raising the status of women in society today.

So these are the things we’re talking about in this episode: The MeToo movement, some language relating to that, then women in pop culture and some superhero characters from the Marvel cinematic universe (specifically Captain Marvel, who will be arriving in cinemas early next year in the Captain Marvel movie and then in Avengers 4 I think) and we also talk about some female comedians from the UK and the USA that we’d like to recommend.

#MeToo

I mentioned the MeToo movement there. I think this is a global phenomenon but you might call it something else in your country. In France it was called #BalanceTonPorc which directly translates as “Balance your pork” or “balance your pig” which doesn’t really mean anything does it – the proper translation of that would be something like “denounce your pig” or “name and shame your abuser”. That’s how #MeToo is known in France, and it may have another name in your country.

Wikipedia defines #MeToo like this:
The Me Too movement (or #MeToo movement), with many local and international alternatives, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_Too_movement 

So MeToo is all about encouraging women to come forward and share their experiences of harassment of various kinds. Speaking personally, I knew that women often have to put up with dangerous and just plain weird behaviour from creepy guys – like being approached in the street, feeling unsafe in certain places or just putting up with dodgy comments and behaviour at work. I knew that, but the MeToo movement did open my eyes to how much of this kind of thing Women have to put up with every day. I think about my daughter and the kind of society she’s going to grow up in and I want her to grow up in a culture in which she feels safe, she feels she can talk about things that happen to her, in which she won’t have to just accept certain behaviour from men, and I want her to have cool characters and comedians on TV and in films that she can relate too, just like I did during my childhood.

I know this is actually a bit of a touchy subject. There’s a lot of pushing and pulling going on in terms of people arguing about the place of men and women in society and both men and women feeling targeted, victimsed or demonised and things like that. I’ve seen so many arguments in online comment sections. I find all of that stuff quite exhausting to be honest.

I see arguments on YouTube and people getting really angry on both sides about something like a perceived feminist agenda in Star Wars or Doctor Who, for example and then I see other people getting really angry about those people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who and I’m just sitting here trying not to get angry about people getting angry about other people getting angry about some people getting angry about feminism in Star Wars or Doctor Who or movies and culture in general and I just think oh can we just have a normal conversation? I don’t know.

In any case, let’s find out from Jessica about her new website, let’s learn some of the words and phrases she can tell us about the MeToo movement and also let’s talk about Marvel movies and some great comedians that you might like to check out.

There are links and videos on the page for this episode as usual if you want examples of the comedians we are talking about, and links for Jessica’s website and stuff. So check those out.

Alright then, so this is Jessica Beck, energetic at 7 o’clock in the morning. American English and British English combined in one conversation, and here we go…


Honestly English

Nerdy English lessons focusing on vocabulary and pop culture!

www.HonestlyEnglish.com

Slang, idioms, natural phrases, the origins and context of that vocabulary.

For example, “Nailed it” (see video below)

The Language of the #MeToo Movement

A recent post on Honestly English about the #MeToo Movement

honestlyenglish.com/honest-blog/2018/9/16/what-metoo-means-to-me-and-slang-for-dirty-dudes?rq=me%20too

Language to describe “dirty dudes”
A perv
A pervert
A creep
A creepy guy
A monster
Being menacing
Also:
To harass someone / harassment

Favourite Female Comedians

Mentioned by Jessica

Kathleen Madigan (stand up comedian)

Kristen Wiig

Bridesmaids (film)
Annie (Kristen Wiig) vs the “perfect” best friend

Melissa McCarthy (comedian / actress)

St Vincent (film)

Mentioned by Luke

Maria Bamford
Maria captures the experience of being a woman dealing with mental health issues, by recreating the voices and attitudes of other people in her life, particularly her mother and sister who she imitates. They sound patronising and subtly judgemental and of course there are jokes in there but they are so cleverly weaved into her routine. She does brilliant voices and shifts her attitude quite radically. Her normal voice sounds very vulnerable, and the other voices are so much more confident and strident.

OK, she’s strange but that’s the point.

Maria Bamford Netflix show – Lady Dynamite

Maria Bamford interview on WTF with Marc Maron

French & Saunders
On TV all through my childhood. Came out of the anarchic post-punk era in UK comedy. Two English women who were just funny in the way they bickered with each other and also took the piss out of Hollywood movies and celebrities. They’re national treasures.

French & Saunders making fun of Mama Mia

Victoria Wood
Another national treasure who was on telly all the time. She was like a housewife who was also a comedian. Not like Rosanne Barr, but a normal middle class English woman – a bit like the mum of one of your friends, but she did stand up, sketches and did comedy songs on the piano. She was one of the first stand ups I ever saw, along with various other UK comedians at the time. Her comedy was quite local in flavour, meaning she made reference to things like accents and local identity. Died in 2016 along with loads of other celebs. Bowie, Ali, Prince etc

Sarah Pascoe
A stand up who describes the kind of life that most women (of my generation) experience in the UK, while making it very funny. She talks about all the things that women go through relating to relationships and work. She’s very relatable and it’s like observational comedy about relationships and life (but it’s not shit observational comedy).

Sarah Pascoe in Edinburgh

Podcasts recomended by Jessica

  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (NPR)
  • Paula Poundstone
  • Spontanianation
  • Tawny Newsome

YouTube “Honestly English” – videos every Thursday

www.youtube.com/channel/UCBqOicwVfb__YxbsL-5R3tA

Website www.honestlyenglish.com

Facebook Honestly English www.facebook.com/HonestlyEnglish/

509. What’s it all about? (Philosophy and Language Learning)

This episode is all about philosophy and how this applies to language learning. Listen to me describing 8 different ‘schools’ of philosophical thought. Are hedonists good language learners? How do rationalists and empiricists disagree about how we learn languages? Is language learning an innate ability or just something that can only happen as a result of things we do after we’re born?  And, how does philosophy answer life’s big questions such as, “What’s life all about?” “What are we doing here?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” Transcript Available.

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Transcript – 95% complete

Introduction

What’s it all about then eh? This is a question that people have been attempting to answer for bloody ages. Nobody seems to be able to agree or decide for certain what the purpose of our existence is, or even what the true nature of reality is, but over the years the things people have said and written in response to this question have influenced our lives in loads of ways, without us even realising it.

Considering the question of “What’s it all about?” is basically the foundation of philosophy and in this episode I’m going to talk about philosophy and define a few of the main types of philosophy that exist.

I’ll also attempt to apply those different types of philosophy to the understanding of language learning if I can. And if I can’t, I’ll just make a jam sandwich or something.

So, with this episode you can learn English relating to lots of things, including abstract ideas, ethics, science, debate, reason, logic, experience and academic thought in general, and also we can consider the process of language learning from a couple of different points of view.

A while ago I found a questionnaire online which was called “Which school of philosophy do you belong to?”

I thought, “that makes a change from the usual stupid quizzes, like ‘Which Star Wars character are you?’ ‘Which type of biscuit are you?’, ‘Which type of fluff are you? The fluff in the corner of the room, the fluff in the tumble dryer, the fluff in your belly button, the fluff that collects in your jacket pocket or the fluff which collects under the strings of a guitar that never gets played?’ (I was the fluff in your jacket pocket by the way).

This one was about philosophy – “Which school of philosophical thought do you belong to?”

And I thought “ooh, I haven’t done an episode about philosophy on the podcast. That might be an interesting, yet fun way to explore a fairly intellectual topic.

I thought it would be an interesting way for Paul, Amber and me to have an intelligent and highbrow discussion (instead of just talking about poo or Russian jokes or having accordions for legs – although they are, of course, perfectly valid topics of conversation).

I haven’t talked directly about philosophy on the podcast before. So I thought it could be an interesting subject for the podpals to discuss.

And we got together a couple of months ago actually, and recorded ourselves going through the quiz in order to find out what school of philosophy each of us belongs to, based on the ways we live our lives and think about the world.

However, the conversation that we recorded ended up being quite heavy. We got a bit bogged down in just trying to understand, interpret and discuss what each question really meant. Not only did we have to try and make sense of the different types of philosophy, we also just had to try and understand the fairly complex questions in the quiz.

It made me think “ooh, this might just be a bit difficult to listen to – a complicated conversation and a complicated topic – it could be a bit of a challenge for the LEPsters.”

I will play you the conversation and you can hear our discussion, and you can also do the quiz with us while you listen, if you like.

But that’s going to be in the next episode because I thought it would be a good idea for me to talk to you about philosophy first, and to define some terms, before you hear our conversation. That should make it a bit easier for you to follow what Paul, Amber and I are going on about, while also making it possible for you to perhaps learn some things about philosophy and also the language we use when talking about philosophy and while tackling the big questions, like “What’s it all about?” and “What shall we have for dinner?” (well, maybe not that one – although it is rather a big question as I’m sure you’ll agree).

Now, I know you might not be philosophers. I have all sorts of people listening to this, from many different backgrounds. Some of you might be academic types, others not. Some of you are the types of people who like complex and abstract discussions, others might be the types of people who would rather listen to us talk about more tangible things, like Amber’s son doing a poo under a table, or something like that.

In any case, I like to present a fairly wide range of topics on this podcast and I think that’s important for your English.

So, let’s talk about 8 different schools of philosophical thought, and then you can listen to Amber, Paul and me taking that quiz, and hopefully it will make a bit more sense to you!

And by the way, if you would rather hear that story of Amber’s son doing a poo under a table in a restaurant (which is a real story) just listen to episode 380 again. You can find it in the archive.

380. Catching Up with Amber and Paul #3

What is philosophy?

Philosophy is all about how we understand the world and how we make sense of everything around us.

It’s not just “why are we here?” or just “what’s it all about?” it helps us to create the assumptions behind how we understand pretty much everything.

Really, it’s about attempting to answer questions that relate to every aspect of our lives.

Wikipedia: It is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, the mind, and language.[5][6] The term was probably coined by Pythagoras (c. 570–495 BCE). Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.[7][8] Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it?[9][10][11] What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust (if one can get away with it)?[12] Do humans have free will?[13]

So, philosophy is the study of how we understand everything, and the answers to these questions form assumptions about so many things including :

  • Education (What should children do at school and why are schools important in the first place? How should we organise our universities?)
  • Health (How do we understand our bodies – how do we know what will make us strong or weak, healthy or sick?)
  • Politics (What is the best way to run the country?)
  • Science (What is the nature of reality? How do we measure that? Can science solve the problems we face? What is the scientific method and can it help us to discover the truth about the world?)
  • Debate and communication (What is the most effective way to argue your point in a discussion? What are the most effective ways to present information to people?)
  • Religion (Who or what is God and does he exist? How does this relate to the choices we make in life? Do we even have choices?)
  • Language (What is language? How does it work? What does it tell us about us as people? How do we learn it? Should it be controlled? What constitutes “good” and “bad” language?)
  • Ethics (How do we decide what is the right or wrong thing to do in any situation)

Ethics

An example of an ethical question is “if your neighbours are having a loud party late at night, is it ok for you to call the police to stop the party?”

Imagine – your neighbours are having a loud party and it’s keeping you awake. What should you do?

Here are some of the reasons for stopping it: it’s annoying for you personally, it’s annoying for everyone in the area, it’s somehow damaging behaviour for them – i.e. because they need sleep and shouldn’t drink, it’s breaking a rule imposed by the government. Or reasons for not stopping the party: everyone has the right to have a party sometimes, it would be rude to interrupt their celebration, the police might be unreasonably aggressive with them and someone might end up being arrested or even physically harmed, or

“if they don’t stop playing that music now I will go round there and murder everyone in the building, especially if they play THAT song again”.

These are the sorts of questions that philosophers might spend a lot of time thinking about, especially if their neighbours were having a noisy party next door. The philosopher might spend ages pondering the question of exactly what to do, even if most people would just bang on the wall and tell the neighbours to “shut up! For god’s sake shut up or I’ll call the police” assuming of course that god exists and that the police have got nothing better to do, other than sit around smoking cigarettes.)

Still on that example of the ethics of “having a loud party in a highly populated area”, one of the big responses might be “it’s unfair for these people to have this party, because it is simply unethical for a small group of people to be happy at the expense of the happiness of the majority of people living in the surrounding area.” which would be a very reasonable thing to say under the circumstances. I imagine most people would just think “Those bastards! Those bastards! Those bloody bastards!!!” (which is not an established philosophical position, I think)

The ethical principle I described there (not the “you bastards position” but the “happiness for the majority of people is the deciding factor” position, is: What benefits the majority of people is the right thing to do. English philosopher Jeremy Bentham might come to mind, when considering this idea, if you know who Jeremy Bentham is. If you don’t know who he is, and have never heard his name before, I’d be very surprised if he comes to your mind, to be honest. You might just be thinking “How can I get my neighbours to turn down the music?” and suddenly – JEREMY BENTHAM! – that would be weird.

Anyway, Bentham said “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number [of people] that is the measure of right and wrong”. This is the foundation of utilitarianism – a system which influenced lots of people and, for example, contributed to the construction of the welfare state – that’s the system in the UK that provides healthcare for everyone, but which is probably paid for mainly by the people with incomes – the people who earn money from their work, and the higher the income the more you pay – as tax. As long as most people are made happy, this is the right way to run a society. People who work should pay tax and a lot of that tax should go towards a healthcare system that is available for everyone, even those people who don’t work and even if it means that some people who earn more money are also paying more.

This is an example of how a philosophical idea – in this case “utilitarianism” has an impact on the political policy of a nation, and how that can affect everything else.

You can see here that philosophy is at the centre of all the big questions that we face in society – both personal and communal. E.g. Should guns be legal? Should I buy a gun? Should drugs be legalised? Am I a bad person if I take drugs? Should we download films from torrenting sites, or buy them from the established distributors? Is it wrong if I watch a pirated film on the internet without paying for it? Does it matter which film it is? What if the film is a big-budget blockbuster like Transformers? What if I wouldn’t have actually paid for it anyway? Should I feel guilty if I listen to episodes of Luke’s English Podcast and yet I never send him a donation for his hard work? (by the way the answers to all those questions, in order, are “It depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, it depends, YES)

All these questions are philosophical at their very heart – in most cases here we’re talking about ethics, which is just one branch of philosophy.

Different “Schools of Thought”

There are lots of philosophical schools of thought. Not all of them are completely different. Some are quite similar. They came out of different contexts: different people, different periods of time and different places.

Let me go through some of them. Which one do you agree with? It’s quite possible that you agree with more than just one of these things, because I think most of us probably take a bit from here, a bit from there, and have a complex and diverse way of making decisions and understanding the world. In fact I’m quite sure that the general culture in the world is now a combination of all these different schools of philosophical thought, as well as all sorts of other influences, such as traditional customs and beliefs. But there was a time when many the thinking processes that we consider now to be just part of normal common sense didn’t even exist. A lot of the general assumptions that we have about questions of ethics, politics and even language were not always there. Basically, I mean – people used to be really really stupid – like mind numbingly stupid, and slowly but surely, over decades, centuries and millenia, a complex dialogue about the big questions has been going on, involving people from different countries. Various conclusions have been made and a certain amount of progress has been achieved in general thinking… even though some people in the world still enjoy the music of Rick Astley.

The different schools of thought that have appeared over the years are like different realisations – like different rooms in this big palace of thinking that we now all have access too.

So if you feel like it’s hard to make a distinction between some of these schools of thought, that’s ok – some of them are quite similar and in fact over the years they have combined to an extent, so that today it can be hard to distinguish between them. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Also, there are other positions or ways of looking at the world that might emphasise politics, economics or psychology which aren’t included here. E.g. if you believe that the defining force in your life is your place in the class system or wealth system in society, or how your life is dictated by those in power or by the decisions of your bosses, or the police – you might turn out to be a Marxist, or something like that. Or if you think that your experiences as a child are the most influential factors in how your life has meaning, you might be a Freudian, or simply if you believe that our lives are entirely dictated by some sort of intelligent creator who has designed everything including all existence and everything that happens, has happened or will happen – then you might be a religious person like a Christian or a Muslim or something.

Or perhaps if you believe that your life is given meaning by how you interact with audio content uploaded onto an internet based RSS feed, which you then consume through headphones attached to your ears, you might be a LEPsterian.

But again, it’s most likely that your worldview is some sort of combination of all these different schools of thought and of course a lot of the time we don’t really know which school of thought we belong to, because it’s not football. You don’t need to pick a team or anything. And it’s much more complicated than football, and perhaps less fun than football. Certainly in the UK hardly anyone goes around saying “well, I’m an epicurean so I disagree with what you said” or “Hey, shall we get pizza this evening?” “Well, I’d quite like to have noodles so speaking as a platonist I think we should have a debate about it and then choose our dinner based on the outcome of that argument, perhaps you would like to start by outlining your predicates for why you believe pizza is the best option…” Nobody does that, right? But anyway, here we go – different schools of philosophy, in alphabetical order, not chronological. As you’re listening to this you can just think about these questions:

a) Do I understand what the hell this position is all about?
b) Do I agree with this? Is this a good way to look at the world and make decisions?

Empiricism

The basic ideas of empiricism were probably first established by Persian and Arabic philosophers in the 11th and 12th centuries, and then developed into the more established positions by British and Irish philosophers from the 17th century into the 20th century.

Knowledge can only come from what you see and experience with your own eyes. “I’ll believe it when I see it” or “It’s only true if we can actually observe it.” Observation tells us what is true.

This is often contrasted with rationalism which basically says that you can use logic and reasoning to work something out without observing it – e.g. that there are rules of logic that are always true and that these define what will happen.

Empiricism basically says – I don’t trust any other information than the information I’ve seen and I can only know something after I’ve actually seen it, observed it, measured it. So, knowledge is something that comes after our experience.

Rationalism on the other hand says that there are certain universal laws of logic which will ultimately give you the truth about something. So, knowledge exists before us and it’s a matter of uncovering it.

Empiricism is all about ‘what comes after’ and rationalism is about ‘what comes before’.

The ‘what comes after’ means that the knowledge you have of something comes after you’ve observed it.

The ‘what comes before’ means that the principles of logic that exist before an event – universal laws of logic that everyone is born with the ability to use. These laws of logic are then applied to something in order to help us understand it.

So, for ‘flat earth’ an empiricist would say “Let’s look at the earth. Let’s measure it. If it looks round, we’ll know it’s round”. This is limited because sometimes our senses can be wrong. We might not be able to see things, and our senses might even distort what we’re seeing. E.g. for flat earth we can’t see the curvature of the earth from our current position, even if we’re in a plane, even though the curvature is there, because of our relatively close proximity to the earth. You’d need to travel to the edge of the atmosphere to see the curvature, and not many people can do that. So, a problem with being an empiricist is that you put too much faith in your senses, which can be misleading and can’t cover all aspects of knowledge – e.g. stuff that we can’t actually see – like gravity. I think there’s also an argument that the act of observing something has an effect on it. So, observation is not 100% perfect.

I think that the best approach would probably combine both systems, that to prove that the earth is round you’d observe the earth, measure it but also apply different mathematical laws or physical laws to it.

How does it relate to language?

We can align the rationalism side of things with the idea of ‘language nativism’. Rationalists say that we are all born with the ability to use logic and reason, that it is innate to us – perhaps part of our genes. Language nativists argue that we are born with an innate ability to learn languages. That language learning is in our genes. That all of us learn languages in the same way (regardless of the language) and that it is instinctual.

Language empiricists on the other hand believe that language is something that only happens after we are born – that it is something that we learn, rather than something that is kind of built into us genetically.

Epicureanism

This is an ancient school of thought created by a Epicurius from Athens in ancient Greece – around 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ (307 BC).

This was when people were just trying to work out how to live properly – coming up with approaches to the best way to live your life. These days we are inundated by different methods and approaches to how to live your life. Think of all the lifestyle magazines and articles about dieting and making the right life choices and career moves. Once upon a time, people hadn’t really worked that out, and the philosophers in Ancient Greece really paved the way for this sort of thing. It seems they spent an awful lot of time sitting around trying to work out what human beings should really be doing with their lives beyond just surviving like all the other species on earth.

Epicurius believed that pleasure and pain are the only things that have intrinsic value to beings, and that the goal of life was to maximise pleasure and minimise pain for both yourself and others.

He taught that people thus needed four virtues: prudence (caution – being careful), justice, friendliness and fortitude (courage and the ability to withstand pain and difficulty). Epicurus emphasised that the pleasure from an action must be weighed against the negative side effects, a concept that could be called the ‘pleasure calculation’. For example, you could save up £1000, buy twenty kilograms of chocolate, and eat it all at the same time. In this case though, you need to weigh the pleasure of eating chocolate against the inevitable stomach ache and the weight you’ll gain from eating a third of your body weight in chocolate. Epicurus had a second part of the pleasure calculation that he said to consider: is it worth the momentary benefit of £1000 of chocolate or buying a new bike a bit later for £1100?

The greater pleasure, even if it causes a slight negative effect at the moment, is the greater good. Epicurus also taught that sensual pleasures weren’t all that there was to the world. Epicurus noted that appreciation of art and friendship also count as pleasure. Moreover, Epicurus taught that the enjoyment of life also required old Greek ideals of self-control, temperance, and serenity. Desires need to be curbed, and serenity will help us to endure the pain we may face.[2] Epicurus also preached altruism over self-interest. Said he that friendship “dances around the world, calling all people to a life of happiness.” He taught that the best life for the individual is one that is lived with other people for their benefit in addition to the individual’s own benefit. (RationalWiki)

No idea what he says about language to be honest!

Perhaps that when choosing to learn another language we should measure the benefits of learning that language against the pain we might experience as a result.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that while learning English can be painful, frustrating, confusing and embarrassing, the benefit of learning this language clearly outweighs those negative things. So, on balance Epicurius would probably say – “Go ahead and learn English! And make friends with people while you’re doing it!”

Existentialism

www.philosophybasics.com/branch_existentialism.html

Language?

Hedonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_hedonism.html

Would a hedonist make a good language learner?

I imagine a hedonist might be a bit lazy, especially if learning a language from scratch doesn’t involve much bodily pleasure.

But perhaps hedonists might learn language if it meant gaining access to more forms of gratification. E.g. they might learn language in order to seduce people, get access to alcohol, drugs, or other forms of bodily pleasure! I expect a hedonist’s vocabulary would be rather limited to dirty words, useful phrases for drug deals and pillow talk.

Humanism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_humanism.html

Language

I’m certain that humanists put a high value on language as a means of connecting with other people in the world. Humanists might have a democratic and prescriptive approach to language too.

Platonism

www.philosophybasics.com/movements_platonism.html

It’s pretty confusing, but to boil it down let’s say: Plato basically invented the first university – a place called The Academy which was positioned outside the city limits of Greece. This was where he delivered lectures to his students and engaged in debates. This was the foundation of certain academic principles and methods. Those academic “for and against” essays that you might have to write at university, or for an IELTS Writing part 2 – that all started with Plato and his academy.

He believed highly in the value of debate, argument and discourse as a way of reaching certain eternal “higher truths” – these are truths which are eternal. He thought that ‘ideas’ were more important than ‘matter’ (physical stuff) and that the persuit of knowledge or the process of learning is a question of uncovering universal truths that already exist in our immortal souls.

Language

From a language point of view, Plato believed that ultimate knowledge already exists inside us and it’s just a matter of uncovering it.

Noam Chomsky has applied this idea to his understanding of linguistics – how languages work, specifically in the idea that there is a Universal Grammar that we are all born with.

Basically, the idea is something like this – how do native English speakers know exactly how to use grammatical forms like present perfect tense correctly, without having formally studied it or been taught it?

E.g. my brother James knows when a sentence is right or wrong – e.g when present perfect is being used correctly or not, although he’s never been taught English grammar. How did he learn it? The idea is that James, like all of us, was born with an innate understanding of grammar.

From www.fluentu.com

1. Plato’s Problem
The writings of Plato stretch all the way back to the beginnings of Western philosophical thought, but Plato was already posing problems critical to modern linguistic discourse.
In the nature versus nurture debate, Plato tended to side with nature, believing that knowledge was innate.
This was his answer to what has become known as Plato’s Problem, or as Bertrand Russell summarizes it: “How comes it that human beings, whose contacts with the world are brief and personal and limited, are nevertheless able to know as much as they do know?” Being born with this knowledge from the get-go would naturally solve this little quandary and consequently he viewed language as innate.

Personally, I just can’t agree with this. What about people who are rubbish at grammar because they’ve had no exposure to it?

(Note: I’ve changed my mind! I think we must be born with the innate ability to learn grammar – but the whole subject is difficult to fully understand)

Scepticism

Philosophybasics.com

Skepticism (or Scepticism in the UK spelling)
At its simplest, Skepticism holds that one should refrain from making truth claims, and avoid the postulation of final truths. This is not necessarily quite the same as claiming that truth is impossible (which would itself be a truth claim), but is often also used to cover the position that there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge (sometimes referred to as Academic Skepticism).

Language Learning & Scepticism

For language learning, you could say that a sceptic would avoid jumping to conclusions about the language being learned. E.g. when you think you’ve learned a rule about the language, avoid saying “this is always true”. E.g. The idea that quantifiers like “some / any” are always used in a certain way. You might learn from an intermediate book that “some” is used in affirmative sentences and “any” is used in questions or negative – but watch out, that so-called rule is often broken. So, a language learning sceptic might avoid thinking “this is always true” or “this is never correct”.

Stoicism

Dailystoic.com

Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.

I found this article on Benny Lewis’s website “Fluent in 3 Months” and it’s doing exactly what I’m doing (or trying to do) in this episode – applying certain principles of philosophy to language learning.

This one is written by Jeremy Ginsburg, who describes himself as a writer, entrepreperformer and language learner and you’ll find it on

How to Apply Stoic Philosophy to Language Learning

So there you go folks. 8 different schools of philosophical thought.

Empiricism, Epicureanism, Existentialism, Hedonism, Humanism, Platonism, Scepticism, Stoicism.

There are many more types of philosophy than that of course, but that was just a series of 8, based on this online survey that Amber, Paul and I took recently.

If you’re feeling a bit confused

Don’t worry, I totally understand. Honestly, I’m a bit confused too. That’s normal. This stuff isn’t supposed to be easy, that’s why people have been thinking about it and going on about it for thousands of years.

Really, philosophy is all about wisdom and trying to understand things better, make the right decisions and choose the correct way of life.

I wonder what school of philosophy you associate with most?

Also, if you’d like to listen to Amber, Paul and me finding out which school of philosophy we belong to – just wait until the next episode to hear our discussion.

Thanks for listening!

Luke

487. Learning Languages and Adapting to New Cultures (with Ethan from RealLife English)

A conversation about travelling and learning languages with Ethan from RealLife English. Ethan is very well-travelled, having lived in at least 6 different countries. He’s also learned a few different languages to a good level as an adult. Let’s talk about his advice for adapting to new cultures and learning languages in adulthood. Vocabulary notes and language test available below. 

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A Summary of what Ethan said

How to adapt to a new culture

  • Arrive with an open mind and be ready to try anything
  • Don’t just hang out with people from your country
  • You have to make an effort to integrate into the country
  • Things might be weird, but you’ll end up having some really memorable experiences
  • Push yourself to live like a local, even if at first you feel like the lifestyle isn’t as good as it is in your country
  • Get over yourself! Get out of your comfort zone
  • Don’t go just to learn English, go somewhere for the whole experience – and if you do that you’ll probably learn English more effectively as a result

Ethan’s advice for learning English on your own

  • Watch a popular TV show with subtitles – it’s important to choose a show that you like.
  • Listen to music and taking the time to look up the lyrics.
  • He just talked to people, even though he was really awkward and shy because he made lots of mistakes.
  • Motivation is key – he fell in love with Catalan and this gave him the motivation to push through the difficult moments, the awkwardness etc. So build and nurture your motivation to learn a language. Realise how good it is for you to come out of your shell and remember that you can get over your barriers if you really want to.
  • Find the right people to talk to, find people who are understanding and sympathetic to your situation (someone who’s learning a language too).
  • Do a language exchange because the other person will be much more likely to tolerate your errors, and will be willing to help you out because you’re going to do the same for them. (you can use italki to find language partners in many countries – www.teacherluke.co.uk/talk )
  • Be voraciously curious – cultivate the desire to do more. If you’re listening to music, check the lyrics and look them up. While watching TV use a notepad or an app like Evernote on your phone to note down vocab and then look it up later.
  • Practice by speaking to other non-native speakers of the language you’re learning. Other learners of the language are likely to be more sympathetic, they’ll probably have more in common with you, they might have some good advice, you’re going through a similar experience. Having peers with whom you can share your experience is really important.

Some language from the first part of the conversation (Quiz below)

Listen to this episode to get some definitions and descriptions of this language.

  • Refurbished buildings (made to look new again)
  • You can see some random smokestacks and things sticking up (tall chimneys)
  • Three blocks from the beach. (distance between his place and the beach)
  • I tend to go running there (I usually go running there. Not – I am used to going running there)
  • The weather hasn’t really been beach-appropriate (appropriate for a beach!)
  • We’re just rolling into fall here (entering) (fall = autumn)
  • I enjoy running by the beach, especially because the whole area around the beach is very iconic from when they had the Olympics here (impressive because it’s a famous symbol of something)
  • A modernist humongous whale structure (massive)
  • Every time I look at it I’m just astounded, it’s beautiful. (amazed)
  • Language for describing Ethan’s background (background – narrative tenses, past simple, past continuous, maybe some past perfect)
  • I moved back here (already) two months ago.
  • I was living here two times before, once for a year and a half and once for 3 months. (normally I’d use ‘I lived’ but perhaps he was thinking of it as a temporary thing in both cases)
  • Ways he talks about his current situation – present perfect to describe past events with a connection to now.
  • I’ve come back to stay, probably indefinitely, hopefully for a couple of years. (this is the only example actually)
  • Describing your background and your current situation 

    Describing your background

    You need to use narrative tenses to describe your background story, and you need to learn how to do this in English and to be able to repeat it with some confidence. It might be worth thinking of how you can make your background story quite interesting or entertaining, or at least say how you felt about it. It just helps in social situations.
    Remember:
    Past simple – the main events of the story – the main sequence
    Past continuous – the situation at the time, or longer events which are interrupted by shorter actions
    Past perfect – background events to the main events of the story
    E.g. I went to university in Liverpool and studied Media & Cultural Studies. It was a really interesting degree, but it wasn’t very useful. I stayed in Liverpool for a while and played music in a band but we didn’t make it and I left and moved back in with my parents which was a bit of a nightmare. I didn’t really know what to do with myself for a while, but I decided I wanted to travel and go somewhere quite different, and I‘d always been curious about teaching, so I trained to be an English teacher and I got my first job in Japan. I stayed there for a couple of years, had a great time but decided that I wanted to come back because of family reasons. I taught English in London for 8 years, did my DELTA, got a job in a good school in London and then I met a French girl and I moved to France so we could be together. I’m very romantic. (actually that was almost exclusively past simple, wasn’t it?)Describing your current situation
    Then you also need to talk about your current situation. We do this with present simple (permanent situations) and present continuous (temporary situations) and present perfect to talk about past actions with a connection to now.
    E.g. I live in Paris these days. I’ve been here for about 5 years. I’ve worked for a few different schools, teaching English. These days I teach at The British Council. I’ve been there for about 3 years now. I’m also developing some online courses which I hope to release on my website before too long!
  • I’m from Colorado in the USA. Luke: Oh cool.  (I said cool – because you should say cool when someone tells you where they’re from, or at least you should show some interest or curiosity, and be positive about it.)
  • It’s below Canada and above Mexico, between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (my non-specific description of where Colorado is – basically, it’s somewhere in the USA, haha etc)
  • It’s (to the) north east of Arizona, (to the) east of Utah, above New Mexico.
  • What’s the difference between ‘east of London’, ‘to the east of London’ and ‘in the east of London‘?
  • The four corners – it’s just a couple of hours away from the town I grew up in. (how would you put that in your language? “It takes two hours to get there”, “It’s a couple of hours from here”
  • It’s a tourist trap now. You go and put your hand in the middle and you’re in four states at once. (a place that attracts tourists and is probably best avoided)
  • I was born in my house. Durango, Colorado. That’s the town I lived in.
  • When I was 17 I moved to Germany for 6 months.
  • It’s interesting to see that, when you’ve lived in a place for 20 years, how it evolves. (how it changes gradually over time)
  • Colorado is wonderful, it’s spectacular. (magnificent, amazing, breathtaking)
  • We’re so active, we’re always outdoors. There are spectacular hikes you can do.
  • There are 4,000 or 5,000 metre peaks. (summits, mountain tops)
  • It’s very different to Europe because you get that kind of old-west feeling. (from the period of western expansion) (wild west – cowboys and lawlessness)
  • My only criticism is that I lived there for 20 years, which is more than enough. (nice way to start a sentence with something negative in it)…. (more than enough = too much)
  • I’ve never seen a grizzly, and they are dangerous. (grizzly bear)
  • Mountain Lions – if you were by yourself and you encountered one, it might not be a great end for you. You might get eaten alive by a huge cat. (You don’t meet a wild animal, you encounter one.)
  • We have deer and elk and in the north we also have moose, and a lot of, we’d say, critters, like small animals. (deer = animals that look like they have trees growing out of their heads – you know what I mean. Like Santa Claus’ reindeer. Elk = big deer. Moose = really big elk. Critters – little animals like rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, raccoons, skunks)
  • In the US you drive from city to city and you see endless expanses of mountains and plains. (wide open spaces)
  • That’s a fun question so I’d have to think. (a nice way to buy time for yourself when someone asks you a question, like saying “that’s a good question, let me think”)
  • When I was in high school I did a 6 month exchange in Germany and during that time I also got to live in Poland for 2 weeks. (difference between for and during?)
  • I lived in Spain in Majorca for a year during college, which is when I fell in love with this place.
    Some time expressions to help you tell a story:
  • After that, after school, I moved to Brazil.
  • I joined RealLife English because they had started a few months before I moved there.
  • That’s when I moved to Barcelona. Then I moved to Chile for 6 months. Now finally I‘ve moved back here.
  • After that you can imagine I’m a bit tired of jumping around so much and living out of a back pack. Now I’m here to stay for a while.

Were you listening carefully? Test yourself.

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Did I mention this? I was recently interviewed on the RealLife English Podcast – you can listen to it here…

We talked about using comedy TV shows and humour in learning English. Check it out below.

RealLife Radio #161 – How to Be Funny in English (Special Guest: Luke’s English Podcast)

RealLife English – Links

RealLife English Global Website

RealLife English Podcast

487 pic

477. Holiday Diary (Part 4) The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

The holiday diary continues and in this chapter we visited Bel Air in L.A. and so here is an analysis of the lyrics to Will Smith’s rap from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, a famous TV show (and a very serious piece of work, haha) from the 90s which was set in Bel Air itself. Topics covered: TV pop culture, racial politics, slang English.

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Episode Notes, Lyrics & Vocabulary

By the way, these are flapjacks, just in case you were wondering. Yum.

Flapjacks (these ones are made with honey, oats and peanut butter) Click the pic for the recipe.

Flapjacks (these ones are made with honey, oats and peanut butter) Click the pic for the recipe.

Did you get The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on TV in your country?

I used to watch the TV show a lot when I was younger (in the 90s).

Yes, the Fresh Prince is American English but I consider it also to be global English and you should too. Also, I think everyone should know or at least be able to repeat one or two of the lines from this rap, right?

So let’s listen to it and analyse some of the lyrics.

It’s not even a great rap, that’s the thing! It’s just a laugh! It’s not exactly the Wu Tang Clan or anything… Anyway…

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – language analysis & cultural commentary

Summary of the story 

This rap basically sets up the scenario of the show. Did you work out the details of the story?

Will Smith is an ordinary guy from a rough part of Philadelphia. The area where he lives is too rough and dangerous, so his mum decides he has to move in with his aunt and uncle, who happen to live in Bel Air, in Los Angeles. The aunt and uncle are rich and successful. The uncle (Uncle Phil) is a top lawyer. This is obviously possible, but quite rare.

Is it just a funny TV show, or is it about race relations and racial politics in the USA?

I’m not sure I am fully qualified to talk about racial politics in the USA. The fact is, despite the American dream which says anyone can make it, it appears to be much harder for a black guy to become a millionaire than for a white guy to do it. I’m not saying why that is, I’m just saying it. In fact, I’m reporting it as something I’ve heard Chris Rock say, so fine – not my words, the words of Chris Rock.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game”.

“You don’t get plaques for getting rid of plaque.” (two meanings of the word ‘plaque’ – listen to hear the explanations)

“The black man gotta fly to get something the white man can walk to.”

“I had to host the Oscars to get that house.”

Lyrics

Listen to the episode to hear my language analysis and some comparisons with British English.

I’ll tell you which bits of vocab are “standard” (i.e. not specific slang – the stuff everyone should know) and “slang” (i.e. the stuff that’s more specific to the informal English you might hear from Will Smith or the social group of the time)

Fresh Prince of Bel Air – Rap, Long version
Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
So just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air

In west Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground was where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, maxin‘ relaxin’ all cool
And all shootin some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys who were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared [UK – mum, USA – mom]
She said ‘You’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel Air’

I begged and pleaded with her day after day
But she packed my suit case and sent me on my way
She gave me a kiss and then she gave me my ticket.
I put my Walkman on and said, ‘I might as well kick it‘.

First class, yo this is bad
Drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass.
Is this what the people of Bel-Air living like?
Hmmmmm this might be alright.

But wait I hear they’re prissy, bourgeois, all that
Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat?
I don’t think so
I’ll see when I get there
I hope they’re prepared for the prince of Bel-Air

Well, the plane landed and when I came out
There was a dude who looked like a cop standing there with my name out
I ain’t trying to get arrested yet
I just got here
I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared

I whistled for a cab and when it came near
The license plate said “FRESH” and it had dice in (on) the mirror
If anything I could say that this cab was rare
But I thought ‘Nah, forget it’ – ‘Yo, holmes to Bel Air’

I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8
And I yelled to the cabbie ‘Yo holmes, smell ya later
I looked at my kingdom
I was finally there
To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel Air

Songwriters: SMITH, WILLARD C. / TOWNES, JEFFREY
Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Other vocab

We drove around in Bel Air for a bit looking at houses like weird stalkers.

They’re huge and ostentatious (displaying wealth, showing off).

You get the impression that these people live in a bubble.

We came across Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s house which is unfinished.

Apparently they’re having problems with their neighbours who claim the house is obstructing their view.

I am not surprised because it is a but of a  monstrosity.

Apparently they are getting sued by the neighbours or something. I think they’re claiming that it’s interfering with their enjoyment of their property.

Driving back down we went past another massive house and we could see helicopter rotor blades above the hedge. Someone’s got a helipad on their property. Mental.

Then we swung past the Scientology buildings again on the way home.

To be continued…

474. Holiday Diary (Part 1) New Arrival, New Destinations

Hi everyone, I’m back from my holiday so here’s a new episode of the podcast. In this one you’ll hear me talking about some recent news (including quite a big announcement) and then an account of what we did on holiday including some descriptions, opinions and stories. There’s talk of disturbing political events, dodgy car rental experiences, and a couple of beautiful cities where urban life meets wild nature. Enjoy!

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Notes & Transcript

Some of this text (below) is a full transcript of what I say in the episode, and other parts are just basic notes which I used while recording. So it’s not a 100% complete script.

Hello! I’m back from holiday!

How are you? Did you have a good August? Did you go anywhere?

Let us know in the comment section what you’ve been up to.

In this episode I want to just tell you about my holiday.

As you know, I’ve been away and it’s become sort of customary for me to give you a sort of holiday report whenever I come back from a trip away, so that’s what I’m going to do in this episode.

I’m going to describe places we visited, things we saw and I’ll tell a few little anecdotes along the way and give you my opinions on some things.

You will find some notes and transcriptions on the page for this episode if you want to read some of the words I’m saying, for example if you hear me say something in particular and you’re not sure what it is, check the episode page it will probably be there.

I don’t know how long this is going to be. I might divide it into a couple of episodes. It’ll be as long as it takes for me to just feel like I’ve told you the things that are on my mind and were on my mind while we were away.

Just before we start

  • Andy interview part 2 (Episode 472) – it seems a lot of people were quite moved by Andy’s story. It was an emotional one. Andy deserves some respect for sharing it with us and for managing to get through such a terrifying experience when he was relatively young. It’s also interesting to see in the comments that many of you have had similar experiences to Andy or your lives have been affected by cancer in some way, and you have used running as a way to deal with it and so you found his account to be particularly poignant. Unfortunately cancer touches many people’s lives in one way or another. But a story in which someone beats it is always a reassuring boost to anyone who knows about it.
  • Website only stuff – I hope you enjoyed some of the website only material I uploaded while I was away. There are three things in the episode archive that you won’t know about if you just subscribe to the audio podcast. One is an episode of Zdenek’s English Podcast in which he recorded us speaking in London when we met there and we had fun teaching some crime-related idioms and just making up some stuff about my supposed criminal past. The second thing is a DVD commentary track that I recorded with James for Star Wars Episode 4. We just sat down in his flat one evening, put on his Star Wars DVD and recorded our own commentary. That’s just for the Star Wars fans I suppose. You can just listen to it, or watch the film and listen at the same time and you’ll hear James and me discussing the various scenes, making fun of the film, doing some impressions of the characters and generally messing around over the top of the film. Then the third thing is a long musical mix that James and I did using his vinyl record collection. He has a lot of vinyl records, many of them original 7inch and 12inch singles from the 60s, 70s and 80s. We went through his records in a long mix and the plan was to go through a history of British music. THe mix has some speaking between the records and you’ll hear music all the way from 1961 to the mid 90s when we ran out of time. If you like music and you’d like to learn a bit about the UK’s musical history, check it out.
  • Transcript projects – The Orion Team and Andromeda Team have been busy producing more and more transcripts. You can now find over 250 finished scripts and also many scripts which are 100% proofread. Go to the transcripts page on my website for more info. I’ll be updating that page soon to make it easier for you to find the transcripts.

So, the holiday.

Where did we go? And why?

We wanted to have kind of a blowout – that’s a fairly big holiday as a celebration because my wife is pregnant. Yes, she’s pregnant, we’re going to have a baby so we wanted to go on another big trip while it’s just the two of us before the baby arrives.

That’s right – my wife is pregnant. We’re going to have a baby in December.
That’s kind of a big deal isn’t it?

If you are now thinking of writing to me by email or in the comment section to send me a message about this, and you’re wondering what to write exactly. Here are some things that would be appropriate.

Congratulations!
Very happy for you!
Fantastic news!
That’s great!
When is it due?
Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?
Do you have any ideas for names?
Are you ready?

Those are some appropriate things.
Basically, congratulating us and wishing us well.

Needless to say, anything other than that would be inappropriate, right?

No doubt some of you will choose to think about the podcast and how that might be affected by this oncoming change in my life.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to stop doing the podcast because I’m having a baby (correction: my wife is actually the one who is going to have the baby, I’m just going stand there, let her dig her fingernails into the back of my hand and hope for the best.)

It’s true, things are bound to change in my life because of this and certainly at the beginning when the baby is newly born it might be hard to record and upload episodes as regularly as normal, but I definitely plan to carry on the podcast because honestly, this podcast is like my job these days – it is a job because I get income from sponsorship. It is a job I thoroughly enjoy and that I chose for myself.

Confucius: Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Quotefancy-23697-3840x2160

But it is a job nonetheless.

So there are several reasons why I plan to continue doing it. I’m not about to just abandon it.

So we chose to have a big trip to celebrate our last summer holiday just the two of us.

This would be our last holiday just the two of us! We kept saying, “It’s our last summer together!”

We’ve always gone abroad for our recent holidays – it seems alternating between parts of Asia and North America. Indonesia, California, Thailand, Japan.

But we think that with kids it would be easier and also safer to go on holiday in France or the UK.

So, this year we wanted one more fairly big trip!

2 years ago we had our honeymoon in California – we had an amazing time and had a few mini adventures involving bears outside tents and injuries on hiking trails (I made something like 8 podcast episodes about it! Called California Road Trip)

But there were things we didn’t manage to do or see on that trip and we always said “We’ll come back and do it next time” – at the time it helped deal with the disappointment of knowing were missing something, like for example the Grand Canyon or something else we really wanted to experience. “We’ll get it next time” we would say.

You can’t always see everything you want.

So this time we decided to have what we’re calling a ‘babymoon’ by going back to that part of the world to do the things we missed out on last time, just as a big final holiday just the two of us.

So, we went back to the USA – to Southern California for some days and then quite a lot of time exploring the National Parks and areas within the Navajo Nation territories. Places like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Monument Valley, Lake Powell and The Grand Canyon. Incredible landscapes, natural scenery and wild beauty – but also the kind of infrastructure that would make it possible for my pregnant wife to see all that stuff without it being too inconvenient or risky.

So this is like the California Road Trip 2 but this time we went to lots of other states too, including Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Back to the USA and for some reason I feel slightly sheepish about telling you that.

Feeling sheepish = slightly embarrassed, uncomfortable or unsure about something.

Why?

Politics

Maybe because of the political situation over there which is throwing a weird shadow on everything. It feels like a controversial time to go over there, as if you’re somehow taking part in it, validating it or making a statement about it.

There was nothing political about our trip so that has nothing to do with it.

It was hard to escape the politics there though, but only on the TV, mostly.

In our everyday experience we didn’t see any trouble, unrest, no anti-Trump rallies, no white nationalists marching around. We saw a couple of bumper stickers saying MAGA and also a poster that said “Hillary for Prison 2016” but that was it. A couple of people we met talked about how ashamed they were that Trump was their president and seemed surprised that we still wanted to visit the country.

But generally speaking, everyone we met – including people I imagine had voted for Trump and others who hadn’t – everyone was very polite and nice to us and apparently to each other too.

On the TV though, there were scenes of violence and chaos as fighting broke out between white supremacists and anti-facists in Charlottesville Virginia, on the other side of the country.

On TV it was fighting, chaos, debates, angry tweets, all kinds of drama. I took a look at Twitter a few times and there was a lot of quite angry debate on there with strong opinions on both sides – those who were clearly against the white supremacist groups and those who defended them. It felt at times like the country was in turmoil.

Then we looked out of the window and it was just silence, maybe a car driving by.

It just showed me the sharp contrast between the reality of TV and the internet (because I think the internet is the new mainstream media – despite what all the YouTubers think – it’s fast becoming the mainstream media, especially when they get more views than many TV shows). It showed the contrast between what you get in the media, and what you actually experience, but then again we were just tourists and were probably just scratching the surface.

Reminds me of Bill Hicks www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGjuPJskNRE

I could go into all the complicated politics of what happened in Charlottesville but I think I won’t, in this episode.

I could describe the reasons why white nationalists were marching through a town in Virginia (on the other side of the country to California), why they were waving confederate flags, why some of them had swastika flags, why they were shouting Trump Trump Trump and MAGA. I could go into how they fought with anti-facist protestors, and how we’re not sure who started the fighting. I could talk about how someone from the white supremacist side drove a car into the anti-facists, killing a woman and injuring 20 others, and I could go into why many people feel so upset and angry with their president for not taking a clear position on these people who some describe as fascists and neo-Nazis, and how lots of people believe Trump is somehow encouraging these people.

I could go into all of that, but this episode is supposed to be about a travelling experience, not about a fight in a town on the other side of the country.

I might come back to it in another episode. I’ll see how I feel.

The Holiday

Itinerary
Paris – Montreal (half a da) – L.A. (a few days) – Vegas (one evening is enough!) – National Parks & Canyons – Vegas (for about 2 hours) – L.A. (a few more days) – Paris – Bed!

Cities and national parks. Urban areas with metropolitan life and amazing geological features in desert canyons.

Montreal

One afternoon and an evening.

We hung out mainly in the Mont Royal area and the old town.

  • Reasons Montreal is an awesome place
    People are really friendly and polite.
    Everyone’s bilingual, which is amazing. It’s shows that it’s totally possible for a whole city to be bilingual. No need to panic and freak out about several languages being spoken in a city at the same time.
  • It’s really diverse and in a good way because everyone’s really chilled out and there seems to be a lot of mixing between ethnic groups and not a lot of tension or anything.
  • They have this food called “poutine” which is basically French fries covered in cheese and gravy – not that healthy but it is seriously tasty.
  • The city has this nice colonial vibe to it and there’s loads of greenery everywhere. In the streets we walked down there were leafy trees, big bushes outside people’s houses, just plants growing everywhere – some of them planted, some of them weeds, but it felt like there was lots of plant life almost taking over the city, which is great. In Paris, it’s all stone and as a result it can feel a bit brutal. The greenery adds some much-needed calm to the place and also oxygen.
  • The buildings are really cool-looking, with really interesting looking staircases outside them and awesome wrought iron balconies and verandas.
  • Montreal has access to some amazing wilderness areas like local mountains, lakes and forests so you can get into nature really quickly while also enjoying the benefits of living in a city.

We were walking around going, “oh my word this is the perfect city for us”.

But, the bad side is that in winter it’s totally freezing and everything gets covered in 4 feet of snow, which makes life really inconvenient.

I know some of you listening to this live in similar places. What’s that like? How bad is that really?

Anyway, I loved Montreal and would gladly return there one day.

I like all the space, the convenience, the feeling of being in the ‘new world’, the vast natural landscapes and all that, but it’s Canada so you don’t get the feeling you’re in a completely crazy country where people shoot each other and stuff like that. I’d love to go back to Canada again one day. I did travel there for a month when I was 19 with my cousin Oliver and we had an amazing time then too. We’d very much like to go back there. We were even talking of moving there, but we don’t want to leave our family and friends behind.

Left Montreal and Flew to Los Angeles

Nightmare rental car experience with “Right Cars”.

Arrive and the woman at the info desk doesn’t know the company. Not a good start.
We work out that we need to get a shuttle to a car park a couple of kilometres away from the airport. A car park.

Everyone else is getting out of the shuttle at the proper rental places, getting greeted with smiling service agents from Enterprise and Avis.

We’re the last ones on the bus. Dropped off and told to go around the corner. “Round the corner! Round the corner! Just go on round the corner sir.”

At least they called me sir.
Tried to call them. Call centre hell.
Now I’m on hold in blazing sunshine in a car park, or parking lot.

It’s even called the cell phone lot. There’s no chance of not standing there on your cell phone, that’s the name of the place.

Finally get through to someone. There’s a driver coming.
We’re expecting a shuttle.
Dude turns up in a rental car.

We get in, asking questions. He tells us the shuttles are in the garage. Both of them just broke down this week.

OK.

We pick up the car, they add some other charges we didn’t know about like a toll road charge. Never went through a toll road.

And the bill and the receipt didn’t match but we were told it would be sorted out because the guy wasn’t there.

Shady dealings.

I’d ordered a GPS with it too and he said “Do you still want the GPS?” after we’d already paid.

Nah, that’s fine I took a good look at the city from the plane window, I think I’ve got it all worked out. I’ve played a lot of GTA5 I think I know my way around this city.
I watch a lot of movies, I know LA like the back of my hand, I’ll be fine.
Of course we wanted the GPS. “Do you still want it?”
No it’s ok, I’ve decided to just use the force. Thanks.

What’s it like walking around in LA? (I talked about this a bit in previous episodes)
Like being in a movie
GTA5
Sunset Boulevard
Cool looking little shops and bars.
Hippie stuff everywhere.
Shops selling jewelry and cool clothes.
Constant smell of vaping, but not seeing where it came from.
Vegan coffee shops and stuff.
Amazing sunshine, lazy cars drifting past.
50s style burger joints and dudes on cool bicycles.
Tattoo’d people, bikers.
Stopped at a sports bar.
First hearing of Hotel California (this ubiquitous song that you hear everywhere)

Los Angeles is a big city with millions of people, an urban place where everyone drives, but there is a surprising amount of nature there with lots of wild plants, cactuses, trees, animal life, and hills with tree-filled canyons. You feel like it’s not difficult to get into nature quite easily. It’s not exactly like it is in the movies. In many ways, it’s better.

To be continued in Part 2 with some content about: Modern art, astronomy vs astrology, flat-earth conspiracy theories and more descriptions & stories!

Thanks for listening.

Luke

Oasis of calm - in the middle of Silverlake, Los Angeles.

Oasis of calm – in the middle of Silverlake, Los Angeles.

457. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 2)

A follow-up to episode 455 consolidating the insights of Professor David Crystal including various pearls of wisdom about language learning.

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Notes & Transcriptions

Hamid
If English keeps taking on words from other languages, will it stop being English?
This is the story of English.
English is a vacuum cleaner of a language.
Something like 300-600 languages have influenced English with words. If you look at English today. Where are the germanic words? They’re only about 20%. The other 80% is from French, Spanish, latin and others.
There is no single dominating influence on English today.
How many Urdu words have gone into English? Maybe 100. But English has over 1,000,000 words. No new cluster of words coming in is going to come in all at once (tidal wave) they come in drip drip drip.
New words are assimilated to reflect a need – e.g. for new types of food.
This is no threat to English.
In fact it’s evidence of the power of English, that it absorbs so many other influences from other languages and cultures. It’s like the blob!

Jilmani
What’s the future of English?
Unpredictable! Absolutely an unanswerable question. You should never try to predict the future of a language. It’s all about events which just happen, e.g. the Norman invasion, Trump or Brexit.
Will Brexit reduce the influence of English in EU?
Not much. But it will change its character because it won’t be used by so many native speakers, so there will be more developments “Euro English” (I think it has emerged a bit).
But English will continue to change and diversify.

Jairo wants help managing the workload of studies.
Learning about language is a huge burden.
Learning about a language you have to learn about the history, society and events of the time to understand why people were using language in those particular ways.
What was it like to be an old norse speaker?
But most philologists don’t have a psycholinguistic background to their studies.
Philology can be a bit dry.
David prefers the socially aware approach to the history of language which doesn’t just ask “what happened and when” but “why?” – let’s explore the nature of the people who made it happen. This should ease the process.

Cat
English syntax – can you explain it?
Come on you’re asking for a book here!
English has a simple morphology compared with German (or French).
How many possible word endings are there for a verb in English?
The difference between English and German is morphological but also syntactic.
English and German are quite close. They only diverged 2000 years ago.
Word order is a bit different.
Everyone understood David when he went to Germany and spoke German with the wrong word order.
There aren’t that many differences, although the few differences are noticeable.
Cat, why are you worried about local areas of syntactic difference between English and German. Why has this become an issue?
It usually comes down to identity. German English (used by people who have learned it really well) still is distinctively German English.
The point is, don’t be too concerned about micro differences in syntax between your language and English. As long as we understand you that’s the main thing, although obviously style is important so I imagine you want to write in the style of a native speaker (but which one though!) You might have to accept that it’s important to find your own voice in English, which might be influenced a bit by who you are (it is your own voice after all) – which is someone who lives in Germany. That’s not to say your English can be totally different and like German with English words – that would probably be unintelligible and a bit ridiculous. But micro differences aren’t such a big deal.
Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s just small stuff.

Wesley
Do people who speak different languages think differently?
It’s difficult to translate words sometimes because there are some words which don’t directly translate because there isn’t an equivalent word. 10-15% of the words might be untranslateable. But in Chinese it’s a lot more.
But when you do psycholinguistic experiments we discover that people can see the different concepts, but having those specific words makes it easier to talk about those things. You can see the colours but you might not have the language for describing it.
Different languages might not have the same word for something but it doesn’t mean they think about them any differently.
E.g. in English we don’t have a word for a certain thing in Japanese – natsukashii for example. But we find other ways of describing it. Ah, it takes me back or “good old” or “it feels nostalgic” or “it’s good to be back”.
So it doesn’t seem to be the case that languages affect or reflect different perception of the world.
*But I reckon there might be something to it Wesley. E.g. sense of humour, patterns of understatement, all contribute towards expressing a sardonic outlook on life (UK) rather than a direct attitude in the mediterranean for example.
The fallacy is that it’s words that translate, but it’s not it’s sentences. A group of words together are what hold meaning. So even if there’s no single word equivalent, you put some words together and make a sentence and that’s how the language transcribes.
“Snow that you use to build an igloo with” – he can still express that thing with a sentence and you can see that kind of snow.

Learn the vocabulary of a new language and you’ll see the cultural things that it reflects. It shows that to learn the language properly you should learn about the culture too – the mindset, the reference points and so on. You can see all those things too, but having certain words and expressions makes it easier to talk about them.
The result is that in languages it’s easier to talk about commonly occurring cultural phenomena because the language has the tools to do it, but people are all still basically the same, we might just take a bit longer to talk about a concept that in your language is very normal.

Mayumi
Why do Brits use indirect language?
It’s just a cultural difference. It’s the British temperament. The reason for that is hard to say. Maybe it’s because the UK is an island and the psychogeographic factors might affect that kind of language use.
Pragmatics – the study of why people are using specific bits of language.
Language norms reflect the cultural context – that’s the identity argument.
But why does the UK use this polite language? We don’t really know! You have to ask why British people want to be polite. (obviously it’s because we’re such nice people)
You just have to accept the cultural differences. Learn about them and accept them. “That’s who we are.” should be a good enough answer.
As ever, you must accept cultural differences. They’re not weird, they’re just different. It’s a good bit of advice for anyone coming into contact with another culture. You can speculate about why people behave the way they do, but ultimately you’ve just got to accept it and move on, like the way you often have to accept in English that “this is just what people say in this language” and that’s it.

Synchronic not diachronic method.

Wikipedia:
Synchrony and diachrony are two different and complementary viewpoints in linguistic analysis. A synchronic approach (from Greek συν- “together” and χρόνος “time”) considers a language at a moment in time without taking its history into account. Synchronic linguistics aims at describing a language at a specific point of time, usually the present. By contrast, a diachronic approach (from δια- “through” and χρόνος “time”) considers the development and evolution of a language through history. Historical linguistics is typically a diachronic study.

DC says we should use a synchronic approach to understanding these things – why is this particular person choosing to say it in this way, right now?
Some more modern dictionaries now contain essays about usage and pragmatics, which help us to identify how culture affects language. It’s worth reading the extra comments and information pages you find in many dictionaries.
Also, consider reading cultural guides as well as purely linguistic ones.

Antonio
Will AI replace the need for language learning?
Babel fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide)
In 100 years it’ll probably be perfect.
(I’ve seen auto subs have improved recently).
Imagine a situation where the babelfish is operating perfectly. It would solve lots of problems, but identity hasn’t been addressed. I still want to “be French” and the AI might not include those differences. People will still hold onto their languages in order to express their identity. It won’t affect language diversity.
But it might mean that AI might make the need for a global language redundant. Maybe AI will replace English. Why bother learning an international language?
But there are various answers to that – tech might let you down so people might not choose to constantly rely on it – some conditions in which there is no electricity.
Will AI manage to be perfect like a human, with the ability to translate with a view to expressing the culture?
Human translators choose between different competing nuances. I could say it this way, or this other way. We make those decisions based on complex social and psychological factors. A computer might not have that cultural sensitivity, maybe only in the long term.
The number of people learning languages might be reduced, but it’s also ignoring another factor in learning another language – the want to become aware of the culture, history and literature of the other language. There’s a personal satisfaction in learning another language and enjoy the pleasant things about it. People learn languages because they want to not because they need to. It’s a pleasure.
There are many reasons to want to continue to learn, it’s not just about intelligibility.
For the forseeable future he can’t see that it would be economically viable to create that technological solution for language when the traditional methods are the best way to foster relationships.

Jack – I don’t know where you come from.
First of all, David doesn’t mind being addressed in the Ali G dialect.
“Me” instead of “I”.
“Me wants to know…”
“I is well impressed…”
Subject verb agreement. “I is…”
“Booyakasha”
“It is a well big honour”
It’s quite a skill to be able to switch between registers. Sometimes we break the rules as a stylistic choice, like with the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s important to be able to switch between different styles and registers but you also have to know when it is appropriate to do it.
I’m not bothered by it in the comment section of my site, but you should be aware that some other people might find it weird or inappropriate, like for example if you write that in forums on other websites, in the comment section of Amber’s new podcast about Paris history, or in some business meeting. It’s going to seem really weird. So, you need to seriously think about the appropriacy of the things you’re doing and that means the style of English you’re using, or the decision to post dodgy pictures of cakes on my website.
Should the listeners learn the rules of grammar, or should they just focus on meaning, and let the rules look after themselves?
Both but in a structured sort of way.
In communicative teaching the structured side was a bit lost.
Just listening and working things out by being dropped in at the deep end is a bit of a big step – it takes a while.
It’s also important to do some structure work, but also to expose the learners to things that illustrate the language point being used in a functional way.
So it’s not just about form, but also about function and trying to balance the two.
So, as we’ve said before – do both. Some structured language work, combined with exposure in which you are really focused on following the meaning of what’s being communicated. Then probably some more reflection on the way it was done. Moving between grammar and pure meaning all the time. Juggling.

Back to the conversation with friends recently.

People get upset by failing standards in English.

Again, David doesn’t mind – as long as the language is intelligible then it’s a sign of changing identities – a sigh of the times.

Are we better at communicating than we used to be?

It is possible to measure, but not possible to give a simple answer. It depends on the situation.
Book: “The Gift of the Gab” How eloquence works.

Eloquence standards do vary from generation to generation, circumstances, individual to individual. E.g. Obama and Trump – differences in eloquence. Is Trump incoherent? Is Obama a better communicator? Some people say Trump is incoherent and inarticulate. But it’s not necessarily true considering Trump’s ability to communicate with his core voters.
People cite various things as examples of falling eloquence standards, e.g. using “like” but often these aren’t really examples of falling standards, it’s just a question of style.

How do we use “like”?
As long as it doesn’t get in the way, it’s just a question of style.
Again, people see language changes and they equate it with decline. It’s not.
Usually, people are giving examples of things that are just a different type of eloquence (again, change not death).

Trump’s English has a style with its own values. He avoids the rhetorical style of Obama with balanced, complex sentences. Trump uses everyday conversational strategies. “Look, believe me folks..” Every day conversational strategies. He doesn’t use carefully crafted sentences, he changes direction even mid sentence. These are all features of informal American speech.
Semantically it can be extremely difficult to understand what he really means. But adopting that style allows him to appeal to certain people.

These days he might have become a bit more formal, but during the campaign he was noticeably less formal and more colloquial than Clinton and the other candidates. As a result he clearly stood out from the crowd, during a climate of dissatisfaction with the traditional political class. People were fed up with the type of boring politician speaking in that boring old way. They thought they were out of touch with ordinary people, and part of a crooked system. Trump got in by presenting himself as an alternative to this established political system and the way he used English was a big part of that.

Thanks for listening! I hope that helps!

456. Conclusions about Language Learning from the David Crystal Interview (Part 1)

Discussing and clarifying what David Crystal said in episode 454. Conclusions about language learning and linguistics.

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Transcript

Here we are back once again with an episode of this podcast for learners of English. This one should contain insights about the English language and the process of learning that language, straight from the horse’s mouth.

That’s an expression, “straight from the horse’s mouth” which means you get information directly from a reliable and trusted source. In this case that source (or horse) is Professor David Crystal, who of course isn’t a horse – that would be very bizarre. No, he’s of course, he’s not a horse, he’s a great expert on the English language, the author of many books, known by anyone studying linguistics, he’s described as the world’s leading voice on language. I was very happy to have that leading voice on my podcast and there’s certainly a lot of good information to take in – whether you’re learning English or simply interested in languages and what makes them tick.

In this episode the plan is to go through some of the ideas David talked about and see if I can point out some specific bits of relevance for learners of English.

Let’s unpick the wise words of Prof David Crystal and really clarify some truths, tips and general conclusions about language learning, and perhaps explain some of the vocabulary you heard as well.

Essentially, I am going to repeat the main points DC made here, but the aim is to clarify it all and make it a bit more digestible. I will constantly be attempting to answer the question – how is this useful for learners of English? So, you should be able to take away quite a lot from this episode, in combination with the other two.

Is grammar glamorous?

Glamour and grammar come from the same word – because grammar, language etc used to be considered like magic. But grammar seems to have lost its magic these days, in the way people think about it. These days its considered to be boring, prescriptive and all about rules you learned at school.

It’s not glamorous if you study it like they used to in school. Just parsing sentences and working out what the part of speech is.

It only works if you ask why people are using those forms.

Semantic (focusing on meaning) vs pragmatic (why people say the things they say).

Understanding the motivations of the people who use grammar (the pragmatic side) is the interesting part and that’s when grammar really comes alive and becomes glamorous in the old sense of the word.

For learners of English this means exploring not just the form of the language you’re studying but also the reasons why each different form is used. The challenge is to get the semantic side and the pragmatic side into your studies.

So, don’t just study grammar rules on their own in a list. You need to examine the living language and notice those forms and the way they are used to perform specific functions.

Can you learn English without studying grammar?

Children do it, and you can do it too but it takes a long time for all the language to be assimilated by exposure. You can cut out a lot of that time by studying the rules. As adults we can apply what we already know and take apart the language by studying. So, studying grammar is an essential part of the learning process and goes together with a more long-term process of acquiring English through exposure.

But it’s no good just learning the rules and being able to explain it all on paper, you have to know when and why and where all the grammar is used. So it’s about applying yourself to the pragmatic aspects of the language you’re using and letting that guide your choice of language.

So, as I’ve said before – listen a lot, read a lot – like this podcast or any other material you fancy, but it’s best enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Do some grammar work too, like self-study exercises in English Grammar in Use or another decent workbook, but make sure you are always asking yourself – why are these people using this language like this? How are the motivations affecting the choice of words and structures? When you’re doing your listening try to notice bits of language which you’ve studied. Could you say the same thing another way? What would be the difference and how is language related to that. Try experimenting with different ways to put something and get used to the slight nuance it adds. E.g. using a passive structure or an active one.

I know you’re not actually an English teacher, but do you have any tips for learners of English who want to improve their grammar?

No! Not a teacher!
Some linguistic-y tips – basically to know what all the grammar is, but also to be aware of the English that’s being used in the real world and how all that applies to the grammar you’ve studied.

I would add:
don’t be afraid of it, it’s more interesting than you might think, you might need to learn some abstract terms but don’t be put off, the more you learn the more you can learn, always look for examples.

Learning about why certain grammar forms are used really opens up the way you can see language. For example, learning that passive forms are used when you don’t want to mention who did the action allows you to see all those situations. You might want to write an impersonal formal letter, or give a general notice, or describe a process or simply talk about something that happened to someone without constantly talking about who did it. E.g. imagine a story about a guy who is a victim. People keep doing things to him but you want the guy to be the centre of the story. Like, John was kidnapped. He was bound and gagged and thrown into the back of a taxi. It took two hours for him to be rescued.

You wrote a political history of grammar in the UK (published online at www.davidcrystal.com)
What relationship does the average Brit have with grammar today?

Essentially, Brits have an up and down relationship with grammar, based on the fact that grammar study came in and out of fashion and grammar was learned in a two-dimensional way. People are often a bit prescriptive about grammar as they think it should be about rules and regulations, but they’re really only attempting to impose controls over something which evolves over time.

Knowledge of Grammar in the UK
In the 50s kids all learned basic grammar at school, getting examined at 16. Told to identify parts of speech in a sentence.
Then it went out of fashion in the 70s.
Several generations of kids who didn’t study any grammar at all.
Now they’ve grown up and some of them are teachers.
They don’t know any grammar.
The ones who grew up in the old style had learned grammar.
The younger ones were teaching but had no knowledge of grammar.
“The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater”
A language awareness programme was brought back, with a modicum of grammar back in the syllabus/curriculum.
David had to do lots of basic grammar training for these teachers. He wrote “Rediscover Grammar”.
Now, it’s back again.
Kids are examined for their ability to recognise parts of speech and do sentence parsing.
But the semantics and pragmatics aren’t there – it’s just mechanical analysis of sentences. Some teachers are very unhappy.

Now there are 3 types of audience.
The oldies who are in their 60s who know about the old style grammar teaching,
The middle generation, some of whom know a lot about grammar and some who don’t.
Then the modern generation for whom grammar is back. They have to come to terms with it.

One positive thing for learners of English is that you probably know more grammar than the average native English speaker. You should feel quite good about that.

Questions about language from Amber & Paul

People complain about the decline of the English language. Are standards of English declining?

That Q comes from 2017 but you can see exactly the same question being raised at any time.
The English language is in a state of terminal decline. (according to people)
This also applies to spelling and pronunciation and punctuation, plus discourse politeness. Grammar gets more mentions because there’s less of it to complain about than say ‘vocabulary’. Grammar has only 3000 or so basic points of grammar to master.
So, people feel that if you can’t manage that then there’s something serious to worry about.
People look to contemporary examples to justify their complaints.
IN the 1860s it was because of Americans.
Today the internet gets a lot of the blame, especially texting, tweeting, SMS.
Uneducated people will blame what they sense to be a reason for what they perceive to be a decline.
But when you study it you realise there’s no correlation between the signs of decline and the features they mention.
Usually people cite old prescriptive rules.
You should never end a sentence with a prep. You should never split an infinitive.
The English language has survived very well even though people have been breaking these so-called rules for 200 years.
This is the man I was talking to. – Any modern person realises it’s a stylistic distinction. “To whom” is more formal.
The informal usage also has a history as old as the English language. It’s in Shakespeare. “To be or not to be, that is the question… Or fight others that we know not of.” (ending a sentence with a prep – Hamlet)
It’s a huge puzzle to understand why the old grammarians decided to be so prescriptive.
They were blinded by their views.

For learners of English – realise that the language is always in flux. Keep up with it. Remember also that some people have slightly traditional views about language. E.g. more people in the world say “schedule” with a /k/ sound, but I continue to say “Schedule” with a /sh/ sound because it annoys people to do it the American way. Similarly, I think there’s nothing too bad about splitting an infinitive, but I tend to avoid it because it makes people a bit annoyed too.

They’re grammar nazis who don’t know what they’re talking about, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re right.

It’s not such a big problem for learners of English really. You have your own issues with accuracy. But remember that everyone struggles a bit with the language, even native speakers. We should have a progressive view of how language rules evolve, but a lot of people don’t share those views.

If you encounter people who say “It’s the death of the English language”, they’re talking out of their bum. Remind them that English is alive and well and shows no signs of dying, quite the opposite. They’re just being reactionary and hyperbolic.

Language Death

Almost half the languages in the world are endangered.The reasons are many. It could be linguistic genocide – forbidding the use of the language, or opting not to use it for political reasons (e.g. because you want to side with a particular faction on your country), but when a language is endangered, when another language starts taking over the functions of that language, people no longer find themselves able to use that language for everything – certain facilities kind of disappear because people have got used to doing it in the other language.

Welsh is quite successful these days because of activism, but a few years ago English was taking over Welsh, and also some rules of Welsh grammar weren’t being used. You get a sense that the structure of the language is declining. Certain Welsh structures stopped being used. It looked like a kind of structural erosion of Welsh, because of the influence of English. Vocab is more common – many foreign languages contain English words. #Franglais

But there’s no hint of decline in relation to English which is actually going from strength to strength. Spoken by 2.3 billion people. It’s nowhere near death.

They just mean it’s changing, it’s not death.

Language change is difficult for lots of people to take and they talk about death but it’s irrelevant. The only languages that don’t change are dead ones. They go in very unexpected directions and you can’t predict them.

Petty language gripes don’t bother him. They don’t bother me either.

Partly it’s to do with identity – people are annoyed that British identity is changing or being influenced by American identity. But getting annoyed at the language usage, which is a symptom, is a bit redundant.

Some people don’t like change at all, but David sees it as a natural part of the way languages develop. Be like David.

My mate Paul often says that we’re actually using the language incorrectly because there are more non-native speakers than native speakers of English. Is he right or talking nonsense.

Error: Talking about right and wrong.
Correct: The perception that there are more non-natives than natives.

It’s a global situation now, not local (e.g. North vs South England). Global language differences are the same as local ones – equivalent – just different communities using English differently, on a global scale.

Now it’s Irish English, Indian English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Singaporean English and many many more including French English, Japanese English and so on – all versions of English spoken by people who have learned it to a proficient level as a 1st or 2nd language.

It’s just different communities that are right in their circumstances.

Standard English and non-standard English.
Standard English is traditionally viewed as the correct version, but NSE has it’s own justification. There are reasons why non-standard English exists and they’re perfectly good ones. Non-standard English and standard English are equal in terms of their status.

A standard promotes intelligibility. Standard English has lots of users, but there’s also a huge number of dialects (international), many different kinds of English reflecting community backgrounds. You can’t say “right and wrong” in these circumstances. It’s just a number of different communities using English in a way that is appropriate for their conditions.

When you start looking at individual cases like a foreign learner is breaking a rule of standard English, then you’ve got a transitional situation. BrE and AmE. They coexist. It’s not possible to say “wrong” or “right” when millions of people are using both versions.

In China there are very fluent speakers of English, not learners but proficient speakers, who have developed a certain usage which is basically Chinese English. Local features of grammar and vocab don’t keep communities apart, we just learn to understand each other.
“Informations” vs “information” – no problem of intelligibility.
Anyway, Chaucer wrote “informations”.

These small differences are expressions of identity and rarely get in the way of intelligibility. This is one of the reasons the UK has proud diversity in its English accents. They’re all statements of local identity, and although we see the differences, we are able to communicate with each other.

It’s a Q of whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate for that circumstance and the two criteria are
Intelligibility – do we understand you. If we understand you, it’s appropriate.
Identity – differences are an expression of local identity. Lang is adapted to reflect the locale, especially the vocab – all the reference points to important things in culture. Local terms, idioms, expressions etc.
If the English you use is wrong for that context because of the way it expresses a certain identity then you have a problem of appropriacy.

If Ali G went to the Houses of Parliament to speak with politicians and civil servants, his English would be considered inappropriate (even if intelligible) because people would think it’s not the proper way to address people and so on. Similarly if Theresa May went to a skatepark and tried to talk to some locals, she’d have a hard time as well.

English is always in tension between intelligibility and identity (against global anonymity)

Local versions need to be different enough to express their identity, but not so different that nobody understands them.

My French students feel a bit bad about their pronunciation.
Do they need to worry?

This is perhaps the #1 concern of my French students who judge each other harshly for their accents and also feel bad about it. It may be the same in your country, but I find in France people are very disdainful of a strong French accent. I don’t mind that much.

The bottom line is, once upon a time they would have felt bad because people would have said “you’re speaking English badly” and that’s not so long ago.

Now, there is no such thing as a single version of universal English accent. RP is spoken by less than 2% of the population of England. It’s a minority accent but a powerful one.

Why should people be expected to speak this minority accent when other accents are now considered acceptable in their own right.

RP is important because of tradition but miniscule compared to American, Indian and so on. It’s no longer possible to condemn an accent because it doesn’t fit in with this small version of the language. You have to analyse it on its own terms, with its local identity. As long as it doesn’t interfere with the need for intelligibility.

So the main thing is – can we understand you? If “yes” then no worries. Does it matter if you sound a bit French? What’s wrong with sounding French?
I was very impressed by Emmanuel Macron who made a speech in English. It wasn’t perfect, but he got his message across and it showed him to be a really open, confident, modern person. Compare that to Francois Hollande who couldn’t string a sentence together. You don’t need to speak English perfectly in the traditional sense, but you do have to speak it. Stop worrying about being 100% accurate – concentrate on being 100% intelligible. The main criteria is “can you express what you want to say?” not “can you express this flawlessly?”

“But my accent isn’t good”
Well, develop a different mindset. Start thinking more positively about all this!
“I don’t speak received pronunciation” (french accent)
“Well nor do I!”
Mixed accents are the norm everywhere.
English accents are much more mixed than ever before.
There are now hundreds of millions of people who understand each other but have local accents as a reflection of their national pride.
Why are the French worried about sounding French?
There’s nothing wrong with sounding a bit French. (But it’s hard to convince them of this – French people can have very negative views about some things, especially their position on the world’s stage – they beat themselves up quite a lot, which is odd. In comedy, they seem ok about being insulted about their national character. They quite enjoy the masochistic approach it seems! Either that or their just happy to have a foreign comedian talking about French things during a show, even if it is criticism. Making fun or insulting people is quite normal in French comedy – I think this is linked to the way French people often beat themselves up about stuff like English.

The main job of the teacher is to expose the students to a wide range of accents. Let them hear the English in different accents, to prepare for the real world, to develop a sense and an awareness of diversity which inevitably will help to change their mindset.

*By hearing lots of different types you get more of an overall understanding of the entire language and how it can have a core structure which is changed slightly in different versions of English.

So – I should keep playing you extracts of English spoken in a variety of accents so that you can hear the whole range.

But also, don’t get hung up on your accent too much. It’s very hard to cut out the traces of your origins, and it’s unnecessary. Just focus on being intelligible – fix your pronunciation, vocab, grammar, punctuation etc following this criteria and you’ll be on the right path.

END OF PART 1 – PART 2 COMING SOON

455. David Crystal Interview (Part 2) Questions from Listeners

Talking to the world’s top writer and lecturer on the English language, Professor David Crystal. In this episode, David answers questions from listeners.

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Episode Introduction

Here’s part two of my interview with the famous linguist Professor David Crystal.

In this one I asked him some questions from my listeners. I didn’t get a chance to ask all the questions I received, so if your question isn’t included then I do apologise. I left out some questions because I think he had already answered them in one way or another, or because we just didn’t have time.

But the questions I did ask him covered quite a wide range of different topics, including the way foreign words get absorbed into English, predictions for the future of English, how to deal with the workload of studying linguistics at university, the nature of English syntax, how languages affect the way we think and see the world, why British people use indirect and polite language, the influence of AI on language learning, the effects of Brexit on English in the world, whether it is appropriate to speak like Ali G, some study tips and some comments on the English of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

Don’t forget to check out www.davidcrystal.com where you can see a reading list of David’s books, read his blog, see videos of him in action and even contact him by email.

I would just like to thank David for his time again, and I hope all of you out there in podcast land enjoy listening to our conversation.


QUESTIONS FROM LISTENERS

Influence of foreign languages on English

Hamid Naveed (Pakistan)
I’m an English language teacher. My question for David Crystal is: www.oald8.com (The Oxford Learners’ Dictionary) has a lot of new words from Urdu such as ‘ badam’ ‘ chai’ ‘ aloo’ ‘ bagh’ ‘ dharna’ and many more. If English keeps on taking words from Urdu or any other language, then what will be the future of English? I mean English will no longer be English. What is your take on this ? Thanks.

The Future

Jilmani
My question for David Crystal is what is the future of the English language? Will it be the same or will it be a little bit different since we know that english has changed over the decades?
How do you think English will develop over the next few years?
How will non-native speakers be part of this?

Tips for students of Linguistics

Jairo Trujillo García (from Tenerife)
I am studying an English and Spanish linguistics ( and philology ) degree , and even though I like it , it can be really hard at times ;
What recommendations would you give me to make the burden of vast information more manageable in the time allotted ?

English Syntax

Cat (Originally from Russia, moved to Germany)
I’m very confused about English syntax. I spent many years studying German grammar and syntax but it is of little use for learning English. German and English appear so similar (especially the words) and yet so different (for example, the sentence structure) at the same time. I just feel that something is completely different, but cannot point out the difference. Could you please tell us a little bit about the sentence structure and logic (the syntax) of English? (Perhaps you could compare it to the syntax of other languages)
As I don’t like doing grammar exercises at all (I’m sorry!), I was wondering, are there some more enjoyable and fun ways to learn English syntax? Maybe some shortcuts and mnemonics what you can offer us? Also what about the punctuation rules between the main and sub clauses? They can be a real pain in the neck for our transcribers. Thank you!
Cat

Language and Psychology

Wesley
I have several questions for Prof. David Crystal. The first is whether people who speak different languages think differently, I mean, if they understand and perceive the world in different ways. For example, I’ve heard that while in some places people perceive two colours and give each of them a name, somewhere else there might be others who perceive those same two colours as only one because they have only one name for them. Another example I have in mind is how we position adjectives in a sentence in English compared to in Romance languages. In English, adjectives usually come before the noun they describe. Romance languages, on the other hand, tend to place adjectives after the noun. So in English we first refer to the characteristics of something before we say what it is, and in Romance languages we start with a noun and then describe it. Does it affect, in any way, the way we think?
If we learn a second language, do we start to think more like the native speakers of that language?
Thank you very much!
Wesley

Language and culture

Mayumi (Japan)
Why do British people tend to use indirect language, hesitate to say “no” and also frequently say “sorry” in various situations? Is there any story from linguistic history?
In my Japanese culture, as far as I know we also find similar tendencies because we’ve lived in this tiny island and if people said whatever they wanted, behaved without caring about other people in this small area, or even argued with each other, they could possibly end up being expelled from this small society. This can be one of the reasons why we have these tendencies as well. This is something stuck in my mind for ages from the university class.
Did British people had similar experience when they established their culture or could it be an absolutely different story?
Cheers!

The Influence of Technology

Antonio (Spain)
My question for David Crystal: Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies are working on translators in real time based on AI. So we can speak in Spanish with a French person and he will hear French while he speaks in French and we hear Spanish.
Skype has this option for 8 languages.
What do you think about about the AI related to language learning?
Will AI replace our need to learn other languages?

Advice for learners of English

Jack – Origin Unknown
(I don’t know why, but Jack always writes comments on my site in an Ali G dialect. I actually think it’s evidence of how good he is at English, because he can clearly write in normal style, but he chooses to adopt this specific form of English – if he can do that it shows great ability to shift between different registers and dialects – if he can break the rules I presume it means he knows that the rules are there in the first place – for some reason he chooses to write comments in this lingo – are you ready?)
I is not that learned but I also has got questions for Professor David Crystal.
Dear Sir,
Booyakasha, It is a well big honour to have you ere on da podcast, you is da only person me respects in the field of linguists after Norman Chomp The Sky and Stephen The Crasher (Naom Chomsky and Stephen Krashen).
What advice would you give to an English language learner to improve his / her language ability? Should the student focus on form (grammar, vocab etc) or should the student focus on meaning and let the subconscious do the rest?
Well that`s me questions there Big man. I has to say you is the shining crystal in the field of linguistics.
Big up yourself Prof Crystal
Respek, Westside.

 


Outtro

There was so much interesting content in what David Crystal said in this conversation and so much to take from it. These two episodes are really worth listening to several times so that you can really get a grip on what he said and really absorb it all.

If you sent in a question that I didn’t ask, then I’m sorry about that.
I should do follow-up episode in which I consolidate a lot of what DC said, and highlight various things that you can apply to your whole approach and attitude towards learning English.
Watch out for that.

Check out David’s work at www.davidcrystal.com
He’s got books about grammar, spelling, pronunciation, accents, Shakespeare – pretty much any aspect of English – he’s got it and he always writes in a clear and entertaining style.
I’m not selling his work or anything. It’s just genuinely good stuff that I’d like to share with you. This is why I’m so happy to have spoken to DC on the podcast – he’s ace and you should read his work.

Thanks for listening! I invite you to leave your comments below.

452. A Conversation About Language (with Amber & Paul)

Discussing language with Amber & Paul, including issues such as errors made by native speakers, language change, whether language standards are declining, the effects of technology on language and how to cut an avocado without injuring yourself.

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Click here to check out italki and get your $10 voucher

Introduction

The other day Amber and Paul came over to my flat do a podcast. We were having tea, chatting and getting ready to record something, and we just started talking about language, I think because Paul said that he found it weird that even though he can speak 3 languages really well, he knows nothing about language – he doesn’t know the grammatical terms, the rules of what makes something right or wrong or somewhere in between, and we were talking about it, and I quickly managed to press the record button and ended up recording about 50 minutes of us rambling on about language – all totally unplanned and spontaneous.

You’re about to listen to it. This is an Amber & Paul episode so you’re going to hear an unscripted and natural chat between friends so there might be a bit of swearing.

Before you listen to us discussing language-related issues, consider these questions, which are at the heart of our conversation.

  • What are some common errors native English speakers make in English?
  • How do native English speakers feel about mistakes in English, particularly mistakes made by other native speakers?
  • Are some errors worse than others?
  • How does a language evolve? Are errors a part of that process?
  • Has your language, or English, changed much in the last 100, 200, 300 years?
  • Is your language, or English, getting worse than before? Are standards of language declining?
  • Has a language ever totally broken down and died due to falling standards?
  • Why did latin die out as a language?
  • On a slight tangent, what’s the safest way to cut an avocado?
  • Back on track, how does Charles Darwin relate to language development?
  • What effect is technology having on our language? Is it making us better or worse at communicating?
  • Are we better at communicating than we used to be? Are we getting better at communicating? How do you even measure that?
  • Do you know more about English grammar and so on than most native speakers of English?
  • Do you know more about English grammar and so on than Paul Taylor?
  • Are you better at cooking than Paul Taylor?

Watch out for answers, and general rambling on the subject of those questions as you now listen to our conversation about language.


That’s it! Leave your comments below.

So there you are, that was our conversation about language.

I invite you to take part in the conversation by getting into the comment section.

Let me remind you of those questions from the beginning. (see above)

There were a few unanswered questions in there, and I think I might be asking David Crystal about some of them.

Remember that? I’m going to interview the world’s leading voice on language – Professor David Crystal. It’ll be a chance to ask him various questions about language. I’ve already collected some questions from my listeners, and I have loads to ask him too, but feel free to offer up a question or two and if I get a chance I’ll ask him.

Actually, I’ve already interviewed David Crystal, so it’s too late to send me your questions! Episode coming soon.

I was interviewed on “My Fluent Podcast” by Daniel Goodson

Hello website people and email subscribers! Here’s some extra content for you.

In this post I’m sharing a conversation I had recently on someone else’s podcast. I thought you might enjoy listening to it.

Would you like to know about how my learning of French is going? How about some more behind-the-scenes info about how I make LEP, and my plans for future projects? Listen to my conversation with Daniel Goodson on “My Fluent Podcast” here. Click the link below to check out Daniel’s podcast.

E28 – interview with Luke Thompson / Luke’s English podcast

If you enjoyed listening to my recent interview on Zdenek’s English Podcast recently, you might also enjoy this one.

I was recently interviewed by another LEPster with his own podcast. This one is called “My Fluent Podcast” and the concept of the series is that you can “learn with a learner”, in this case that learner is Daniel Goodson from Switzerland.

Daniel is a dedicated language learner, and in his short episodes he talks about his goals, habits and methods for learning languages. I’m sure you could pick up some tips from him and enjoy sharing his journey towards genuine fluency in English and other languages.

In our conversation Daniel asked me about these things:

  • My current level of French and how I feel about it
  • What I would do if I could go back in time and start learning French again
  • Some inside info about how I do Luke’s English Podcast

So if you want to hear about those things, just check out the link below. Enjoy!

E28 – interview with Luke Thompson / Luke’s English podcast